It’s rare when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks from the bench and even more rare for him to sit down for a media interview. The associate justice granted an exception to Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, who used to clerk for him decades ago.
Thomas touched on a number of issues during his interview with the host, including what the court is like without Antonin Scalia, his thoughts on the silencing of debate in the country, Neil Gorsuch, monuments being taken down, and more.
Here are some of the highlights:
On Scalia being gone:
“Well the most charitable thing to say is it’s different. I think my colleagues would agree there’s sort of a big emptiness to it. He had a way of filling up the room with his personality, his quips, his intellect, his humor,” he said. “For me personally it’s very different. … it’s an entirely different court without him.”
On reports of Gorsuch ‘ruffling feathers’ on the court:
“Well it's good I don't have any feathers, so it's good I'm certainly not a part of that," Thomas said, laughing. "He is a good man and I have no idea what they're talking about."
"People have to say what they have to say, I don't see all those things," he added. "When you're new on the court, you're trying to find your way, it's a lot of work, it's a lot of personal adjustments, you're moving your family, you're getting through the effects of a confirmation, I don't care who that is, and it is an adjustment period. This is not the court of appeals."
Earlier in the interview he called Gorsuch “outstanding.”
On his omission from the Smithsonian’s African American museum during its first year and whether he cared.
“No, not really. The people who cared about me did, obviously, but no, not really. I grew up at a time when I was exposed to just a wonderful range of ideas in a segregated black library in Savannah. You might read George Skyler or a book by Ralph Ellison or Baldwin. You might read one by Richards Wright. You might read something about Booker T. Washington. You had a range of ideas. I think we are getting comfortable in our society limiting ideas and exposure to ideas. Maybe that's a symptom of it. I don't know. But, I don't think it's good for the next generation and the people who will be learning.”
On the monument controversy and whether any statues were torn down when he was growing up.
“No, I didn’t see that much iconoclasm. There were all sorts of other problems but I think when I grew up and where I grew up in Savannah and the people I grew up with were a different people. ... When you think of people like my grandparents these were people that had been through quite a bit and had a calmness and contentment about life. They understood putting things in context. What was important priorities. What battle will you fight today? What decisions are you going to make? What decisions you make today result in you being able to eat. Those sorts of these. And, long-term, these two boys they were raising will be educated and have good manners and go to school and be polite to the neighbors. Today, we seem to think everything has to be one-size-fits-all and people can't have opinions that make us uncomfortable or ideas that make us uncomfortable or we don't agree with. They would not tolerate that."
On whether he’s surprised things are as rancorous in the U.S. as they were in the ‘70s (about foundational issues):
“No, I’m not surprised. I mean what binds us? What do we all have in common anymore? I think we have to think about that. When I was a kid even as we had laws that held us apart there were things that we held dear and that we all had in common and we always talk about e pluribus unum, what’s our unum now?”
Explaining that some in the U.S. have decided the Constitution, our history, and principles are no longer worth fighting for, he said, “if you're in my position, they have to be worth defending.”
"That's what keeps you going, that's what energizes you,” he continued, “because what you're doing is so important and so critical to the things that matter."